Clockwork. The deadline is a little over a day away and the Celtics haven’t made a move yet. As someone who has been covering this team for over a decade, I can tell you that all parties are playing their roles as expected.
The national writers have thrown the Celtics into any and every major trade rumor or speculation because they have the most assets. Rival GMs are speculating over what moves the Celtics may or may not make (since it could impact the moves that they can make). You hear rumblings from around the league that the Celtics really need to do something because they can only hang on to their assets for so long before they devalue (hmm, sounds like a narrative an opposing GM would want to take hold).
Then you get the word that the Celtics are indeed looking at star talent but are perfectly content to let the deadline pass with a long term plan still in place.
Here’s what Steve Bulpett reported yesterday.
Multiple league sources continue to tell the Herald that while the Celts are actively seeking a top-tier player by tomorrow’s trade deadline (Jimmy Butler, Paul George, etc.), they would be satisfied using the first-round picks from the Nets this year and next in a longer-term (but potentially more lasting) build.
And there has been continued word that Ainge doesn’t want to give up his chance in the high-level free agent market unless the president of basketball operations can secure a franchise cornerstone player now or at the June draft.
Everything stated above is perfectly true. The Celtics want a star to add next to Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. They don’t feel pressured to over-pay though, because they have a great plan B to fall back on.
It is also true that the assets the Celtics posses will devalue eventually. As picks turn into players, they become less valuable until they prove they can play at a high level. As veteran players like Avery Bradley get closer to free agency, they become less of a bargain (Avery is going to want to get paid on his next deal). If the Celtics do pick a point guard high in the draft, they’ll need to figure out who stays and who goes.
The thing is, all those decisions can happen in the offseason. In fact, it might make more sense to work them out in the summer when there’s more time and more teams willing and able to make moves. We’ll also know exactly where the Nets pick will land in the lottery by then.
This trade deadline is a window of opportunity and if another team opens up the option of acquiring a star, great. If not, then that window closes and we wait till the summer. It puts a little added pressure on getting things right this summer, but I think Danny likes heading into the offseason with flexibility.
Opposing GMs, media, and fans will have fun depicting Danny Ainge as hording his assets. They will roll their eyes as another deadline passes without “fireworks” to show for it. However, they still have to admit that the Celtics are in a very good position. (Also, Danny Ainge cares not what they think and he has ultimate job security)
Boston is already a top 5 team in the league, they have a solid veteran core, they have a promising young core, and they have all 3 aspects that every GM wants heading into an offseason (cap flexibility, draft picks, and tradable assets).
I keep wondering about Gordon Hayward’s willingness to leave Utah. Technically the Jazz can offer him the most years and the highest raises. However, he could opt to take a 3 year deal from any team (like Boston for example) and then be able to cash in on a much larger deal when he qualifies for a larger max offer down the road. If he and his agent are of that mindset, then there’s every reason to believe that he could be available this summer. That alone is worth passing on a player with a long term salary and holding on to max cap space for the offseason.
I’m sure that Danny Ainge will make every effort to acquire a star like Jimmy Butler, Paul George, or maybe even Andre Drummond tomorrow. We’ll probably hear rumblings of offers that were turned down and perhaps even some deals that got “close” (whatever that means).
There’s a sense of urgency with Celtics fans to cash in the team’s assets and make a run at a potentially weakened Cavs team. I would imagine that Ainge has some smaller backup deals planned in case the larger deals fall through (like say, Andrew Bogut or P.J. Tucker).
If all else fails though, I hope everyone understands the opportunity the Celtics have to keep playing at a high level while still building a team that could compete for championships for the next 5 to 10 years. Other teams can be focused on “winning a playoff series” as a goal. This team needs to have their eyes focused on the larger goal, even if it takes a little longer to get there.